Monthly Newsletter | January 2023
Musings, Poetry and Announcements
Hello there. I hope you all had a restorative and nourishing holiday season. I spent it tucked away by the sea in Cornwall, and was refuelled by crisp midday walks to fishing villages for fresh crab soup, the quiet power of megalithic sites and, of course, the holding and soft wisdoms of the local holy well. I love the velvet dark of winter whose short, undemanding days expect nothing of us. They feel like a continuous sigh of relief. This is not a time to push or force things, or plough on with our usual self-expectations. I find winter to be a time that invites trust in the unknown. Light gives things form. The dark allows for shapelessness.
And so in this fertile dark, I thought it would be a good thing to start writing a monthly newsletter on my Substack to kick off each month, along with my Sunday writings of course. My vision for the newsletter is for it to be a type of care package. I imagine it to include a piece of writing, announcements on my upcoming online courses and events, and an offering of two monthly poems - one of my own, and one by another poet. This is a method that Alice Oswald introduced me to during my master’s degree last year. At our request, she held night-time poetry readings for us in the dark rooms of medieval Dartington Estate, and would have us go around the circle and read two poems in this way. I hope this monthly poetry offering will transmit some of that spirit.
Last year was highly transformative for me. The MA very much reshaped all the work I was doing previously, and of course, reshaped me in the process. What I thought was going to be an academic degree turned out to be highly shamanic. I had never heard Martin Shaw tell a story before. The first time he did, I spent the rest of the day in bed. I was completely undone. And this was pretty much how I spent the year. Immersed in al alchemical brew, simmering, being made anew.
I wrote my dissertation over the summer, and have spent the autumn recalibrating, allowing the year’s work to incubate and settle in me. I am still very much in the integration process, but there is one particular piece of gold that I am emerging with and that is solidifying the intention of my work in the world.
And so to begin the year, I would like to share a little bit about this reshaped intention.
The crux behind my research and my courses is the retrieval of ancient wisdom; what I mean by ancient wisdom is the lost knowledge lineages that existed during a time pre-patriarchy, and that survived by hiding in plain sight.
My background is in both academia and shamanism, and so I’m interested in bridging intellectual and experiential ways of knowing. My methodology is to employ a multidisciplinary approach based on, on the one hand, the study of literary sources, anthropology, history, and archaeology, and on the other, experiential methods to access direct revelation through altered states and dream work. I aim to be clear when the theories I am presenting are based on source evidence and when they come from direct revelation.
My dissertation took me to a subject that has been close to my heart for the past seven years and is part of my search for women’s lost wisdom traditions from pre-patriarchal Europe. The paper is called The Bee Cult in Greek Myth and Ancient History and was written as a way of contributing to the scarce scholarship on women’s spiritual traditions in ancient Europe.
I was searching for evidence for the existence of priestesses known as the Melissae from pre-Hellenic Greece. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, pre-Hellenic refers to an epoch before the rise of classical Greek culture, a time period that predates the Olympian pantheon. I was searching for who they were and what they did - particularly their religious roles in society. And I found evidence for both their existence and their tasks in archaeology, mythology, and literary sources written by later Greek and Roman scholars.
The writing of this dissertation took everything. I was completely overpowered by this topic, and it became clear from the get-go that if I was serious about taking on this beast, I would have to pay my pound in flesh. I rented a small studio flat and shut myself away for the summer months. Bees accompanied my every step. They would fly in through my window and hang out on my desk. I set up an altar to them, replete with beeswax candles, flowers, dried herbs from Crete, propolis and bowls of mead, with a special little crypt made of rosemary for a bee who came to die on my books.
I hardly slept for three months. My nights were restless and my dreams more vivid than ever. During my two-week fieldtrip in Crete, dreams would tell me about particular chambers in the temple ruins of archaeological sites; they showed me the origins of ancient symbols and the importance of the Bull within religious ritual. And most importantly of all, they kept my study humble. They offered a constant reminder that the recapitulation of this lost story of women’s wisdom traditions in pre-patriarchal Europe is only possible with the assistance of the invisible world, where the commonwealth of knowledge is safekept, hidden in plain sight, for all with ears to hear. As the Islamic Mystical poet Hafez wrote, ‘there are plays within plays that you cannot see.’
All this to say, I did not write this study alone. My dissertation supervisor Alice Oswald, my friend and guide in Crete Sylvia Linsteadt, the bees, the invisible tutelage and the dreams were crucial allies on this Royal Road.
There are still many questions of course, some of which I don’t think we will ever find answers to. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s enough just to know these women existed. I’m content with that.
I’m currently turning my dissertation into a book, and look forward to publishing it when it is ready. I will be teaching an online course on the bee priestesses starting in February. It’s now open for application and you can find all the details below.
I find we are faced with two primary challenges in the retrieval of women’s mysteries. On the one hand, New Age writers will often present their theories as evidence that are either “channelled” or based on inner experience. That this was their methodology does not necessarily discredit their theories, but it can be misleading and cause great harm to pass off inner experience or “channelled” theories as fact. Great claims are often made by, unfortunately, feminist writers whose interpretations of the past seek to support a feminist agenda for the future. But we must take care not to impose our own desires and modern ways of thinking on the past, and instead seek to meet the ancient mind on its own terms.
But just as unfounded and often romanticised claims can cause harm, so can a solely academic approach. It turns arid the fertile richness of an ancient worldview because we lack the holistic capacity of the ancient mind that, based on the importance given to mythology and dreams, can be better understood if we, too, as modern scholars, can take the risk of career suicide by granting these mysteries the same importance.
All in all, by employing both intellectual and experiential ways of retrieving ancient wisdom, I hope to offer a study of women’s wisdom traditions that does them justice, that is respectful, and that is not rooted in a New Age feminism that seeks to fluff out its feathers as a reaction to patriarchal dominance and that, in so doing, clips its own wings.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year and a restorative and illuminating sojourn in winter’s dark.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other, by William Stafford If you don’t know the kind of person I am and I don’t know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star. For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dyke. And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail, but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park, I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognise the fact. And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy, a remote important region in all who talk: though we could fool each other, we should consider - lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark. For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give - yer or no, or maybe - should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
And here’s a bit of poetic levity from yours truly!
On Monday I leave for Serbia On Monday I leave for Serbia Ken my artist friend in his eighties told me to write a poem about it, when he called to meet for a coffee next week But I said no, because on Monday I leave for Serbia. No not Siberia, not Syria no, no- I’m going to Serbia. You see, I’m tired of niceties and expectation and the routine of quotidian life. And sometimes, sometimes my longing gets the best of me and the war-torn stone and the cafes you can still smoke in settle my twitching nerve. No one speaks English, you see, my phone doesn’t work, and for a while I go back in time twenty, thirty, fifty years… that’s where they stayed, the Serbs; like Spain before the Dutch and English expats colonised it with golf courses and tennis clubs and cheep beer. Though I resist nostalgia it does remind me of the Spain of my childhood. And perhaps it’s all really just to delight in the ripple I see on the pond of politeness on your face, when I say, on Monday, I leave for Serbia.
Announcements, Winter 2023
Upcoming Online Courses
FEBRUARY 5 - The Priestesses of the Bee | 3 Month Course on bi-weekly Sundays | 5 - 7:30pm UK
MARCH 3 - Gnosis | 1 Month Course on Fridays | 5 - 7pm UK
APRIL 7 - Seeing in the Dark | 3-Week Course on Fridays | 5 - 7pm UK
Upcoming Online Monthly Gatherings
LAST SUNDAY OF EVERY MONTH - Dismemberment | 5 - 6:30pm UK
EVERY NEW MOON - Embodiment | 5 - 6:30pm UK
ONCE A SEASON (Upcoming: Spring Equinox) - Oracular Guidance | Not Live
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